Rølvaag, Ole Edevart

(1876-1931)
   A Norwegian novelist, short story writer, and essayist, Rølvaag was a native of Norway who lived in the United States while writing in Norwegian. The argument can thus be made that he belongs to both Norwegian and American literature. Born on one of the outlying islands in the Helgeland district of northern Norway, he worked as a fisherman for many years before emigrating to South Dakota. After attending Augustana Academy and St. Olaf College, he did graduate work at the University of Oslo, and then returned to St. Olaf as a teacher of Norwegian.
   As an immigrant himself, Rølvaag was in a unique position to understand and interpret the experience of his fellow Norwegians in America. His first work, published under the pseudonym Paal Mørck, was an epistolary novel, Amerikabreve (1912; tr. The Third Life of Per Smevik, 1971), which introduces one of his major literary themes, the psychological and emotional cost of emigration. It was followed by another novel, Paa glemte veie (1914; On Forgotten Roads) and To tullinger (1920; tr. Pure Gold, 1930), a novel about an immigrant couple s irrational pursuit of wealth. Længselens baat (1921; tr. The Boat ofLonging, 1933) deals with the emotional ties that bind emigrants from Norway to family and friends back home.
   The year 1925 was the centenary of organized emigration from Norway to America. Aided by a leave of absence from St. Olaf, Rølvaag holed up in the North Woods of Minnesota and produced the first volume of the work that was to make him famous in the United States. Entitled I de dage (1924; In Those Days), it was followed by Riket grundlægges (1925; The Kingdom Is Founded); the two volumes were translated by Lincoln Colcord and published as Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie (1927). Telling the story of a handful of emigrants from Rølvaag s home district of Helgeland on the prairie of the Dakota Territory, Rølvaag created a tale of hard work and heroism, but also of the awful emotional consequences of emigration, especially as experienced by Beret, the wife of the group s leader, Per Hansa.
   Rølvaag had intended to write three more volumes in the series, but he died before the third one could be completed. Peder Seier (1928; tr. Peder Victorious, 1929) and Den signede dag (1931; tr. Their Fathers' God, 1931) tell the story of Peder Seier, Per Hansa's son, including his unhappy marriage to an Irish Catholic woman. The story is a tragedy not only on the personal level, for Rølvaag details how the pressure to assimilate leads the Norwegian immigrants and their posterity to forget most of the culture and values of the old country. Rølvaag also wrote short stories as well as a book of essays that argued for cultural preservation, Omkring fædrearven (1922; tr. Concerning Our Heritage, 1998).

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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